Today, 12 Jan 2019, is the 156th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. It reminds me of one of his parables in his book on 'Raja Yoga'.
There was a monkey, restless by his own nature, as all monkeys are. As if that were not enough someone made him drink freely of wine, so that he became still more restless. Then a scorpion stung him. When a man is stung by a scorpion, he jumps about for a whole day; so the poor monkey found his condition worse than ever. To complete his misery a demon entered into him. What language can describe the uncontrollable restlessness of that monkey? The human mind is like that monkey. - Swami Vivekananda, Raja-Yoga
This is one blog post that I am sure that you will read more than once, perhaps bookmark it, save it and even share it with your near and dear ones. Each one of us can benefit from this, even if we knew about it earlier, and I would welcome your inputs on the strategies that you use which are different from those listed below.
Whereas Mindfulness is all about living fully in the moment, the Monkey Mind is distracted from the present moment and either preoccupied with the past or the future. It is forever busy judging, analyzing, worrying, negating and comparing everything with the present moment. It is multi-tasking in the most awful manner and even as one thing is being done, it jumps to the next activity. It spoils the present moment forever, because a moment once lost cannot be recovered, as you know so well. We cannot possibly deal with every aspect of the Monkey Mind in one article, so this one deals with a preponderance of thoughts that bombard your mind every moment, most of them negative. You can never banish or push away a negative thought; there are a dozen strategies that you can adopt however.
You must know that several years or decades of habitually living your life in this fashion cannot be changed overnight. It does call for awareness, persistence and it takes time to create new habits. Choose which ones from those below are best suited to you and make it a regular practice. Over time, the new insight into your own mind and new habits that you have cultivated will override past practices and you will find yourself living more deliberately, purposefully, in the present moment. No one intentionally wishes to fill their mind with negative thoughts and worries. So almost everyone I know say that these happen automatically. Thoughts just float in and out and you are helpless to control them. The thoughts control you and have you in their firm grip. It is as if your mind is always eager to speak with a negative voice. And you are helpless!
Here is a trick that will NEVER let you down. Try having a positive and a negative thought at the same time. Did you try that? Do you realize it is impossible? You cannot deliberately think of a positive and a negative thought at the same time! Just impossible! What does this mean? It means that you cannot push away a negative thought from your mind, but you can certainly replace it with another one. Once you think deliberate thoughts and take full control of what you want to think in your hands, the other thought cannot exist. Oh yes, it will return sooner or later – just replace it again… and again...till it’s a lost thought, pun intended.
Here are the top TWELVE strategies you can use to deal with your negative thoughts and tame your monkey mind:
Immediately think of a positive thought and outcome that you wish over the day, over the week or in the near future. Concentrate on conjuring up an image in your mind that represents the outcome of the positive event. If your mind drifts, gently bring it back to this positive event and add sights, sounds and actions that you wish to see. Read this post on the power of imagination.
As soon as you notice yourself drifting onto a wave of negativity, fully occupy your mind at once with a task at hand, get busy and active doing something that requires a lot of your concentration and attention. The busier you are doing something that you enjoy doing, the more difficult it is for your mind to play truant and wander in different directions. The old adage that 'an empty mind is the devil's workshop' is true, isn't it?
Carefully observe the negative thought, acknowledge it, thank it for being there and continue addressing the thought for a while. The negative thought likes to be in charge, but actually you are! Once you have said your fill, carry on with your day. The more you try to fight or repress it, the stronger it becomes. So accept it, respond to it and move on. Address your thought as if it is not you (you are not your thoughts, you are a mere observer); address it in the second or third person - you will gain more insights from my previous post here.
Clamp your mouth shut and focus on breathing through your nose. Mouth breathing stimulates the body’s sympathetic nervous system and nose breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. So focus on your breathing in and out through your nose. To be more engaged, breathe in through your left nostril and breathe out through your right for a few seconds. Then switch nostrils. Even as you are doing this, plan your next move – what do you want to be doing next? As the negative thought fades away, get on with your day.
As the negative thought or worry grabs hold of you, you will observe yourself to become restless and ‘fidgety’. So compel yourself to be as still as you possibly can. Stand with your feet together, heels and toes touching each other or lie down in Savasana without a pillow and urge yourself to be completely still. By resisting the urge to fidget, itch, move your fingers or hands or toes and legs, you gain control over yourself and increase your mental strength.
Walk across to the mirror. Look at yourself carefully, especially your face and your eyes. Now do all that you need to do to change that image you see – compose yourself, relax yourself – till you see your eyes and your face reflecting the peace and calm that is the real you. Smile at yourself when you see the transformed image.
Speak aloud the negative thought and record it on your smartphone, alternatively you can write it down and then laugh out loud at how ridiculous, baseless and wasteful the activity has been. Tear up the sheet of paper where you have jotted down all your worries and negative thoughts into tiny pieces and flush them down the toilet. See your worries literally draining away.
Exercise will always assuage your mood, without exception. Walk, jog or run or do yoga or aerobics as you listen to uplifting music simultaneously. Concomitantly tell yourself, that all negative thoughts stop right now, focus on your body movements instead.
Keep a stock of funny jokes and stories on hand with you. Make a list of jokes that were directed at you. Now, each time a negative thought crops up unexpectedly, visit the list of jokes – laugh at others or laugh at yourself. Laughter will change you imperceptibly but irrevocably.
As soon as the negative thought appears, walk across to a mirror and then poke your tongue out at the negative thought, make faces at it, punch it or smile at it. Then walk away, leaving it behind the mirror.
Tell your mind that you will allow this negative thought a maximum of ____ seconds/minutes and no more. Tell yourself that these thoughts are no longer welcome thereafter and you have learnt all that you have from them. Use the stopwatch on your smartphone and set it to the ____ seconds/minutes that you allow. The moment it beeps, the negative thought is gone!
Postpone the thought to another day. Tell yourself that you thank the thought for coming up, but that it is not welcome at the present moment and should return some other day. When it returns, repeat this strategy. After a few days of this, it just wont return.